Leonor Greyl $46
Meet the French hairstylist with whom every fashion photographer aspires to work.
Written By JAYME CYK
Name: Odile Gilbert
Known for: Natural tousled locks and avant-garde looks
Where to Find Her: Paris
Clients: Vogue, Vogue Italia, Love, Numero, and W Magazine
Years in the Industry: 42
Beauty Essential: L’Oréal Paris Elnett Satin Hairspray
Mentions in The Violet Files: Paris Couture Beauty
Agent: Megan Tully @ Exposure NY
Odile Gilbert’s first solo job in the fashion industry is the stuff of legend. After assisting the notable Parisian hairstylist Bruno Pittini in Paris for about three years, she was called to set to work with Helmut Newton, the photographer renowned for his often transgressive but always glamorous work. “I don’t think I got any sleep the night before the shoot because I was so nervous,” recalls Gilbert. “Then the day of the shoot I don’t think I stopped at all. I had two models, and at the end of day I couldn’t even remember what I had done.”
Obviously Gilbert was destined to become a renowned name in the beauty industry, and she went on to work with some of the most incredible publications (think: Vogue, Vogue Italia, and W Magazine), faces (Sophia Loren, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Lawrence, and Catherine Deneuve, to name a few), and brands (Calvin Klein, Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Chanel). She also opened the door for women—when Gilbert got started, male stylists ruled the hair industry. But even before she gained notoriety, the French-born hairstylist knew from a young age which career path to take. “I always loved the point before an event where girls apply their makeup, pick out their outfit, and fix their hair,” says Gilbert. “That was always my favorite thing when I was a young girl.”
At age 17, Gilbert left her hometown in the region of Brittany for Paris, and attended hair school for three years. Shortly after arriving in the couture capital, she began assisting Pittini in his salon and studio, which allowed her to meet a slew of celebrities and work on fashion shows, films, and advertising campaigns. Quickly, however, Pittini realized Gilbert’s potential and encouraged her to go out on her own. “Bruno was someone who would not explain everything,” says Gilbert. “There was no direction; he believed in watching and learning by yourself. And that was quite incredible.”
Gilbert realized she needed to leave Paris in order to broaden her portfolio. In 1982, at just 23 years old, she packed her bags and relocated to New York City. Quickly she began collaborating with the masters of photography, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. Her talent took her backstage to work on fashion shows in New York, Milan, and Paris, and she continued to attract accomplished photographers like Peter Lindbergh, Steven Klein, and Paolo Roversi. Gilbert’s genius lies in translating the photographer’s vision, and she argues that she doesn’t necessarily have a signature style (although her avant-garde creations might say otherwise). “I don’t have a style because it’s not about me, it’s about everybody else,” she explains. “When I do hair I forget about myself. It’s much more about the people who are in the pictures.”
It’s people who make you famous because they love your work, because they trust you, because they believe in you.
Gilbert has stayed true to that mentality throughout the years, and it has led to a career both brilliant and eclectic. Highlights include launching a line of hair accessories in 2001 called Odile Gilbert Creations; publishing Her Style, which includes a preface by Karl Lagerfeld, in 2003; and creating the coiffures for Kirsten Dunst in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette in 2005. It was no surprise that in 2006 the French Minister of Culture awarded Gilbert the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres for her creations and contribution to French culture’s world reputation. But when it comes to fame, Gilbert is humble, and demurs any suggestion that she has made a mark on the industry. “It’s people who make you famous because they love your work, because they trust you, because they believe in you,” she says. “It’s not about you, it’s about others; so you have to be quite generous.”
Her latest project? Coppola again commissioned Gilbert to create the hair for her upcoming film The Beguiled (Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning are among the talented cast), a drama about an all-girls school during the American Civil War. And although not every hairstylist gets to jump from films to ad campaigns to backstage at Fashion Week, Gilbert loves having access to so many different outlets. “I don’t mind jumping from one thing to the next,” she says. “It’s always an incredible experience and a challenge.”
Odile Gilbert shares the hairspray she can’t live without, the island she escapes to, and the French aesthetician who keeps her skin in top condition.
L’Oréal Elnett Satin Hairspray because it’s very light and easy to take out of the hair. It’s quite an obsession for hairstylists.
I’m obsessed with antique jewelry. I also love good food, especially Japanese. If I’m in LA I go to Sushi Park.
In Paris we’re so lucky because we have incredible flower shops. I love Odorantes. They carry very special roses.
Using Joelle Ciocco products is my anti-aging strategy. I love facials.
I’m so happy being a hairstylist. I was the first well-known female stylist, and I’m glad I was able to open doors for more women in the industry.
PREFERRED VACATION DESTINATION
I go to Harbor Island, where you can walk on the beach for hours. It’s amazing. In Europe sometimes there are too many people, so in the summer I go to the Bahamas.
I usually go to an Ayurvedic spa, but sometimes I go to Quiberon on the seaside, which is a spa destination in Brittany. Any time I can get off, I go to a spa to take care of myself.
WHAT’S THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE WHEN MEETING SOMEONE?
When I meet a new person I notice how they present themselves. And then I think about what I can do for them.